Here in the Tucson area, Christmas seems to sneak up on us in our warmer climate. Some places try to replicate the “traditional” Christmas feel – the fake snow at La Encantada, for instance, or the towering Christmas trees that are manufactured or are brought in from out of state at shopping malls and resorts. Even the Winterhaven neighborhood, with its tall non-native trees and grassy lawns, was built to emulate neighborhoods in the Midwest.
Below are some ideas for how to bring the Christmas spirit to your Tucson-area yard this holiday season.
Decorating your Tucson Home & Yard
1. Remember the Dark Sky Laws
As mentioned in an earlier post, Tucson is a Dark Sky Community, and home to the International Dark-Sky Foundation. So while the brighter and blue-tinted LED lights may be all the rage, remember not only your neighbors (who are trying to get a decent night’s sleep) but also the skygazers examining the heavens when you pick out lights for your yard.
Random stargazer trivia: Did you know that the constellation Orion sometimes resembles a Christmas tree in the sky this time of year?
2. Keep it Natural
As gardeners and tree lovers, we love any kind of natural décor that you can use, even during the holidays. Although not all of the indoor holiday decorations listed in this article from The Spruce are Tucson local, we love the orange and clove pomander balls and the cranberry centerpiece – using items you could easily get from the grocery store or farmer’s market.
If you’re looking for a living Christmas tree that you can plant after you decorate, there are a few varieties of pines that work in our Tucson climate – but make sure that they are allowed where you live, and that you have lots of room for them to grow.
Aleppo pines have adapted well to Tucson (you can see pictures of them from our University of Arizona Tree Tour). They start out pyramidal but eventually become shaped more like deciduous trees. You can spot them because their cones stay on all year.
Afghan pines are another option, also currently spotted throughout Tucson. They remain in their pyramidal shape and grow quickly to heights of 30 to 50 feet. Learn more about them on the Civano Nursery website.
3. Work with what you have
We don’t tend to have a lot of holly, European mistletoe, or pine trees in the Tucson area (other than the exceptions listed above). What we do have are various types of cactus, some palm trees, and some native trees.
Most of these look festive when wrapped with outdoor lights of various types. Some local sellers create wreaths out of chile peppers, or you could create a wreath yourself out of succulents – and then plant them in your yard afterward.
You don’t have to pretend that you’re in a different climate to make Tucson feel like Christmas.
4. Use decorations that have a dual purpose
As you see decorations around town, you may notice certain kinds of cactus sporting Santa hats. This isn’t just a decoration – some kinds of cactus, such as the Mexican fencepost variety, are sensitive to frost, so covering the tops with items such as Styrofoam cups or winter caps protects them from frost damage.
Other cactus may not be as frost-sensitive, but they look just as festive donning a Santa hat!
If you live near or are friends with someone who has a citrus tree, you may have been gifted with bags of free oranges or lemons around this time of year. Citrus trees, especially lemon trees, are frost-sensitive, so sometimes adding incandescent holiday lights can keep the tree warm on frosty evenings. Note, however, that LED lights provide almost no heat, so they will not have the same effect. More information here.
5. Visit the local poinsettia grower
Many local nurseries will have holiday-themed plants available, but did you know that Green Things is one of the biggest producers of poinsettias in the state? According to their website, they produce over 25,000 poinsettias annually in their plant nursery that are distributed throughout Arizona.
6. Consider environmentally-friendly options
If you want to pick a Christmas tree that is better for the environment, you might think that getting a fake tree is better, because you can use it for several years and it doesn’t get thrown away every January. Or you might be worried about deforestation and all of the trees that have to be cut down to provide enough for American homes to deck the halls.
However, buying a real Christmas tree is actually the better choice for the environment. Artificial trees are made from potentially dangerous chemicals like PVC, which can expose you and your family to dangerous levels of lead. While artificial trees may last several years, they do eventually end up in landfills and don’t decompose. Most fake trees come from China, and while I wouldn’t call our tree stands “local,” (many trees are brought down from Oregon), they are at least from the same country.
Real, fresh-cut Christmas trees are grown on tree farms, where new trees are constantly planted to replace the harvested ones and are not part of the logging industry. The trees on the tree farms also serve as a habitat for local wildlife, they release oxygen into the air for many years, and they can grow in areas where other crops wouldn’t work (such as steep hills).
When it’s time to take your tree down, Tucson and surrounding cities have Christmas tree recycling programs. The City of Tucson then creates mulch from those trees that is free for Tucson residents to use in their gardens!
Looking for inspiration for Christmas decorations – or just some fun holiday events? Our next post will be all about both, so be sure to check back!